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South African Scientists Issue Listeria Warning as Beef Sector Contamination Raises Concerns

Alarming Findings Reveal Listeria Threat in Beef Production Chain

In a groundbreaking study conducted by the esteemed researchers at the University of Pretoria (UP), South African scientists have unearthed a grave concern within the beef sector – the ominous presence of Listeria. This discovery has sent shockwaves through the nation, as the specter of a potential outbreak looms large.

Unveiling a Listeria Menace

This comprehensive research, spanning from 2019 to 2020, delved into the prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes in beef and beef products across the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and North West provinces. The findings were nothing short of disconcerting. Shockingly, 4.6% of chilled carcasses sampled at seven abattoirs in Gauteng tested positive for Listeria.

This staggering statistic paints a grim picture – contaminated beef could easily infiltrate the food chain through retail outlets in the province, thus posing a significant public health risk.

A Painful Reminder: The Listeriosis Outbreak of 2017-2018

This vital research was made possible with the financial support of Red Meat Research and Development South Africa. It was fueled by the memory of the catastrophic 2017-2018 listeriosis outbreak, which left 1,065 confirmed cases and 218 fatalities in its wake.

Dr. Rebone Moerane, the head of UP’s Department of Production Animal Studies and a distinguished member of the research team, emphasized that contamination could occur at various stages in the food production chain. These include equipment, raw product handling, and post-processing settings. Contamination during slaughter can lead to tainted meat and meat products, significantly elevating the risk to consumers.

The Hunt for Listeria: Across Farms and Abattoirs

The diligent researchers from the University of Pretoria also embarked on an exploration of Listeria’s prevalence in cattle, silage, feeds, and water on farms throughout the three provinces. Their quest extended to slaughtered cattle and carcasses at processing plants, as well as beef products at retail.

While the risk of listeriosis for cattle on farms was found to be minimal, the detection of contaminated chilled carcasses at Gauteng abattoirs and the prevalence of Listeria in beef products at retail outlets sent alarm bells ringing.

The study’s findings exposed Listeria prevalence rates of 6%, 8.3%, and 9.3% in beef and beef products sampled in North West, Mpumalanga, and Gauteng, respectively. Additionally, cold beef and beef products showed Listeria rates of 4.3%, 11%, and 9.3%, respectively.

Dr. Moerane, with a furrowed brow, expressed grave concerns over the presence of Listeria in widely consumed ready-to-eat items like polony and biltong. He emphasized the heightened risk of human exposure to this ominous pathogen.

The Urgent Call to Action

In the wake of these startling revelations, the scientists have raised their voices in unison, calling upon the government and industry stakeholders to take immediate action. They insist on the implementation of stringent food safety measures at abattoirs and processing plants to curb contamination risks and to prevent another nightmarish listeriosis outbreak.

Furthermore, the researchers have recommended follow-up studies on moist biltong, a beloved South African snack, to evaluate its potential to support the growth of Listeria and the threat it may pose to consumers.

The clock is ticking, and the nation’s safety hangs in the balance. The clarion call has been sounded – it’s time to protect our food, our health, and our future. The specter of Listeria must be banished from our midst, and it starts with immediate, resolute action.

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